2011-10-17

Things That Used to Be Legal

As reported by the Associated Press, today, Ohio's ban on two recreational substances - "K2" and "bath salts" - begins. Having never used these substances myself - nor having (knowingly) met anyone else who has - I cannot vouch for the AP's claim that the substance called K2 produces a "marijuana-like high" when smoked and the bath salts produce a "cocaine-like high" when snorted or injected.

On one of the many news websites covering this story, however, I did see a video of a young man allegedly high on bath salts. It was incredibly disturbing.

Some of my readers may expect that I support the ban on these substances; these readers would be wrong, however. I do not support this ban, nor do I support the ban on any other "controlled substance."

This is for many reasons.

1. Black markets cause crime. There is no disputing this fact. It is universally understood. Whenever society attempts to place a ban on something that society wants, shady people come out of the wood-works to supply that which was once supplied by reputable manufacturers. As prices skyrocket in response to diminished supply, criminals flock toward the potential profits. Substances such as K2 and "bath salts," which require nothing more than market-ready chemicals and a rudimentary know-how offer rich profits to those who would rather live outside of the law. This, in turn, feeds the underworld. We all know this is how it works, and yet many of us pretend that creating a strong network of organized crime is a better alternative than allowing various morons and the mentally ill to seek a legal high. Go figure.

2. Chemicals are less harmful when the manufacturing process is tightly controlled. As I mentioned in my previous point, manufacturing these substances is not really rocket science. Nevertheless, when manufactured out in the open, legally, various chemists, engineers, experienced factory supervisors, and quality control experts all coordinate their efforts to produce products that meet consumers' needs effectively. When professional adults are forbidden from engaging in this kind of work, however, they are replaced with the criminals described above. These people, in general, are gang members, drug abusers, the desperate poor, and other such people with absolutely no reliable background in the manufacture of consumer goods. 100% of the goods produced can be sold on the black market, therefore quality control flies out the window. Whether the product is safe or unsafe for consumption is irrelevant - it will sell for the same profit as a safe product, and there will be absolutely no marketplace consequence when users die from the product. Therefore, as counter-intuitive as it may seem at first, we are actually subjecting the users of these products to greater risks by making the products illegal.

3. The demand for competing products has just increased. Whatever we can say about K2 and bath salts, they were legal alternatives to products that have already been determined to be extremely unsafe. There is a long list of illegal stimulants that support the existing black market organized crime syndicate. To the extent that people snorted "bath salts," the demand for these illegal stimulants was reduced. To the extent that people smoked "K2," the demand for illegal marijuana was reduced. By outlawing these two new products, we have only driven our children from the convenience store to the back alley. Will anyone seriously tell me that this was a good idea?

4. The total number of drug abusers remains unchanged. As a corollary to point 3, I point out that those people who would purchase a legal product that produces a "legal high" are precisely the same people who purchase illegal products that produce "illegal highs." For the most part, people who use stimulants aren't really interested in how legal is the product they happen to be abusing. They're not interested in conforming to laws, they're interested in getting high. So it always amazes me that people are so naive as to believe that making a product like this illegal will reduce the total number of drug abusers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Which brings me to point number five...

5. You don't heal sick minds with guns, you heal them with reason. However controversial some will interpret this claim to be, I submit that anyone who abuses any kind of substance at all has some level of mental illness. As I have pointed out before, people only escape from their own minds when they don't want to exist in their own minds. In that sense, they are mentally ill. Anyone who has any kind of experience with mental illness knows that you will never heal someone by pointing a gun at a sick person's head and saying, "STOP BEING ILL!" That kind of reasoning is senseless and stupid. And juvenile. It's wishful thinking. You can't just outlaw mental illness and expect it to go away.

No, instead what you have to do is talk to people out in the open. You have to reason with them. You have to persuade them. You have to discuss their problems compassionately and work with them toward a viable solution.

To the extent that this ban is a gun pointed at the head - rather than a dialogue - it does nothing to solve the underlying problem of drug abuse.

6. Are we not masters of our own bodies? If the pro-choice refrain is "My body, my decision," then what on Earth are we doing with these bans? The most fundamental right any human being has is the ability to act on choices that pertain to our own bodies. Bans on product ingestion are horrendous transgressions against the human right to private property (our bodies) and an assault against the most fundamental form of personal freedom.

I may disagree with drug abuse; and when I do, I make that disagreement known. I engage in dialogue. I post something on my blog. I invite comments. I argue, I debate. People walk away with the belief that I am a big jerk for saying the things I say about drug abuse...

But you will never see me arguing for a legal ban of these substances. Because we are masters of our own bodies, because it is dialogue - not guns - that will change minds, and because these kinds of bans are destructive and counter-productive.

Of course, in the end no one will remember what life was like prior to the ban on "K2" and "bath salts." All of this will be a distant memory, and these products will assimilate themselves into the nebulous fog of "drugs, in general."

Except, of course, that I will remember, and will have made note of it on my blog.